” In Godard, there is God ! “The formula of the moderator of Jean-Luc Godard’s press conference in anticipation of a sigh more than one by his swelling, his deference and his obsequiousness, twenty years ago, at the Cannes Film Festival. I think back on it and I tell myself that it was perhaps not so exaggerated.
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The Franco-Swiss filmmaker, who died on Tuesday at the age of 91, resorted to assisted suicide, which is legal in Switzerland. He was and remained a god of cinema. Adored and hated, misunderstood and incomprehensible, the enfant terrible of the seventh art embodied the best and the worst of what it has to offer.
He was a being of multiple paradoxes. An artist as unavoidable as he is elusive, avant-garde as he is pretentious, genius as he is unbearable. In the image, yes, of his films, sometimes off-putting, sometimes irresistible.
A learned iconoclast, with a cigar in his mouth, a chain seducer with hints of misogynism, a non-conformist moralist with a mischievous gaze hidden behind his dark glasses.
Born on December 3, 1930 in Paris, in a bourgeois environment, then raised between France and Switzerland, Jean-Luc Godard experienced a difficult youth, found refuge in sport, and came late to cinephilia. The thunderbolt is intense. Unconditional of Hitchcock and Nicholas Ray, of Bergman and Bresson, he became a critic for the magazine art and to Cinema notebooksunder the pseudonym of Hans Lucas, while working as a press secretary for Fox studios.
His taste for formulas, aphorisms and reversals (“All the great fiction films tending towards the documentary, like all the great documentaries tending towards the fiction”; “It’s not a fair image, it’s just a “) earned him the recognition of his peers.
At the beginning of the other “Young Turks” of notebooks – Rivette, Chabrol, Truffaut, Rohmer – he campaigns for a revolution in the seventh art and dreams of making cinema differently. With Jean Seberg and Jean-Paul Belmondo, who died almost to the day, Godard is shooting his first feature film, in breath, based on a screenplay by François Truffaut. The film, which remains its greatest critical and popular success, marks with a white stone in 1960 the arrival of a “new French cinema”. Godard is not 30 years old and he is, with Truffaut, the herald of the New Wave.
It is with Belmondo again that JLG realizes the sentimental comedy A woman is a woman in 1960. It was also to him that he entrusted, in 1965, the main role of his masterpiece Pierrot le fouincredible love story also stars his companion and muse Anna Karina (with whom Godard will experience a stormy breakup the same year).
In 1963, Godard tour of Capri Contempt, with Michel Piccoli and Brigitte Bardot, in her most outstanding role. The following year he toured side band. In 1965, Alphaville report the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival.
In five years, JLG has already revolutionized cinema. He signs man Womanwith Jean-Pierre Léaud, “in shared custody” with Truffaut, then in 1967, at the height of his glory, he shot The Chinese with Anne Wiazemsky, who would soon become his wife.
The reception given to this Maoist pamphlet provoked in Godard a deep questioning of his work and his role as an artist, exacerbated by the events of May 68. and close-up! You are jerks! “, he launches to the organizers of the Festival.
A few months later, in December 1968, Godard shot the documentary in New York One plus onewhich juxtaposes interviews with the leaders of the Black Panthers and images of the Rolling Stones, in full recording of the classic Sympathy for the Devil.
He took the opportunity to go to Abitibi, where he stormed a Rouyn-Noranda television station in the company of his team and a few Quebec collaborators – including Pierre Harel – in order to carry out a “revolutionary experiment” in citizen television, The game should last 10 days. It does not last more than 30 minutes.
Chilled, Godard leaves Abitibi without telling his hosts, if he promises to write “a book on the links between Maoism and the climate”. Quebec filmmaker Éric Morin was inspired by this historical anecdote for his first feature film Abbittibbi Godard hunt in 2013. Documentary Julie Perron in a short film shoot in 2000, May to December (Godard in Abitibi).
It was following the events of May 68 that Godard broke with his “big brother” Truffaut. Their friendship does not survive the 180 degree turn by JLG, which wipes the slate clean of this New Wave that they created together a decade earlier.
Godard dives into a counter-current, militant and revolutionary cinema of the far left, directs east wind with the radical Dziga-Vertov group, and applies himself relentlessly to debunking, not to say dynamiting, his own myth, sabotaging a number of projects and friendships.
He became “a shitty human being on a shitty base”, writes François Truffaut to him in a famous correspondence.
Its popular revival of the turn of the 1980s, with Save who can (life) and Name Carmen – which won the Golden Lion in Venice in 1983 – was short-lived. The following year, he caused a scandal by staging the naked Blessed Virgin in I salute you marie, which reveals Juliette Binoche. After the 1990s, his work, increasingly experimental and hermetic (including his longtime company, filmmaker Anne-Marie Miéville), was followed only by a handful of diehards.
Snubbed until 1980 by the Cannes Film Festival, he returned to the official selection in 2000, with a short film, The origin of the XXIand century, present just before the opening film. I still remember the grimaces of the festival-goers, discovering without warning the images of five men hanging from a tree and another who urinates in the mouth of a girl…
He has shot some 125 films, features and shorts, documentaries or fiction. His most recent films – socialism movie, Farewell to language (Thursday the Cannes 2014 Jury Prize, tied with mom by Xavier Dolan) – were messy, provocative, subversive, enigmatic. In the image, yes, of their author.
“Godard had many lives. He’s an agitator. He is very fascinating. It’s colossal. You can’t make movies without at some point dealing with his work, ”said Louis Garrel, in 2017, at the Cannes Film Festival, after having played JLG in the film by Michel Hazanavicius, Formidablethe adaptation of Anne Wiazemsky’s book on her life with the filmmaker.
On reading the exciting (unauthorized) 900-page biography he devoted to New Wave exegete Antoine De Baecque at Grasset: Godard the man was funny, brilliant, stupid and wicked all at the same time. A born provocateur, a megalomaniac dandy, acid and narcissistic, often execrable, especially with those close to him. His life, marked by self-destructive and masochistic outbursts, writes De Baecque, is a succession of broken loves and friendships (personal and professional).
At the end of the documentary she made in 2017 with visual artist JR, faces, villages, his old accomplice Agnès Varda will bump into this irascible hermit in Switzerland. Godard, who is expecting a small role in Cleo from 5 to 7don’t even open the door for him.
He was not an affable man, but he was an immense artist. “He’s the greatest terrorist in cinema,” said documentary filmmaker Mark Cousins (The history of cinema). Cinema would certainly not be the same today without him.
“What is your biggest ambition in life? asks the character of Jean Seberg to a writer played by the great filmmaker Jean-Pierre Melville in in breath. “Become immortal, and then die. ” Mission accomplished.
An earlier version of this text erroneously stated that Jean-Claude Brialy played in side band. The mention has been removed.